The mental health benefits of talking to yourself

Do you talk to yourself? Rest assured, the habit is completely within the norm — and can even be beneficial.

The benefits of talking to yourself

“Yes, research shows that talking to yourself is not at all ‘crazy’ and that, in fact, it is a normal human behavior,” clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. tells Considerable. “We are accustomed to self-talk in the mind, yet we sometimes feel that this same self-talk — when expressed orally — is a sign of being odd or crazy. In fact, speaking out loud to oneself allows us to sort through our thoughts in a more conscious manner.”

According to Manly, when we express our thoughts and feelings out loud, we become more aware of what is taking place in the mind.  The processes involved in speaking aloud cause us to slow down a bit as we access the brain’s language centers. “In this way, we become more conscious of the mind’s ramblings and can then become more intentional,” the psychologist says.

Research is on Manly’s side: A 2011 study printed in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology examined the benefits of talking to oneself by assigning 20 participants to locate certain objects in a supermarket. During one trial, no one was allowed to talk as they searched for the given grocery items. However, in the second trial, the participants were told that they could repeat the names of the objects aloud as they searched for them.

In the second trial, it was easier for subjects to locate the items. Talking to themselves out loud sparked their memory and created a stronger association between language and visual targets.

The language you’re using matters

Another study published in Procedia — Social and Behavioral Sciences researched how motivational self-talk impacted basketball players during practice. The scientists found that when the players said encouraging words to themselves out loud, they ended up passing the ball faster.

They also discovered that using the second or third person within positive self-talk (for example: “You’ve got this!”) was more effective and caused the athlete to perform better. This is due to the self-distancing component within the language: Even though you’re talking to yourself, you’re creating more separation in the scenario, as if in a third person perspective.

Keep in mind that in all of this research, the language you’re using matters. “If we’re talking to ourselves negatively, research suggests that we’ll more likely guide ourselves to a negative outcome,” Dr. Julia Harper, an occupational therapist and life coach, explained to NBC News’ BETTER. “However, when self-talk is neutral — as in a statement like ‘What do I need to do?’ — or positive, such as ‘I can get this done,’ then the outcome is much more effective.”

Further, Dr. Jessica Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist based in New York went on to tell NBC News that what we say to ourselves, along with how and when we say it notably impacts our self-esteem, sense of worth and beliefs about self-efficacy. “When working with my patients, the focus is less on whether they talk to themselves, and more about the content of those conversations,” she told the outlet.

When talking to yourself may be a cause for concern

There’s typically no reason to believe that there’s anything wrong with you if you have little chats with yourself regularly. On the contrary: If anything, self-talk makes an individual more alert, aware, and able to process their feelings.

However, there are always exceptions to the norm and, as Jeffrey S. Nevid Ph.D., ABPP writes on Psychology Today, “people who suffer from serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, also engage in self-dialogues, and they may be observed carrying on conversations with the voices inside their heads.” According to Nevid, the difference here is that this form of self-speech directs ownership of inner speech towards “other persons or forces outside oneself.”

Further, if you find yourself engaging in self-talk that involves repetitive numbers, phrases, or mantras and it’s becoming disruptive or hard to stop, this could be an emotional issue that’s worth exploring with a qualified medical professional.